Category Archives: God & Christianity

Bare Ash. Finally, and Again.

I haven’t written in a long time. You know, the name of this blog is “Bare Ash”, but I don’t think I’ve been very Bare. I think I’ve covered myself up with many things. Most of what I’ve written here has been about some concept outside of myself. Fertility charting, political issues, religious issues. All of those things are good things to be talking about, sure. But if I’m being really honest with myself, writing about things OUTSIDE is easier than writing about what’s going on INSIDE. And writing about things OUTSIDE is not why I started writing in the first place.

Outside is easy. I can point my finger so easily at you. And you. And you. I can look out and see all of you hypocrites messing up. I can look out and criticize racism and bad religion.

But this past week, my insides came pouring out. And I want to tell you about it. I want to be bare.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that so much happened in my insides during Holy Week, the week leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Last week, Palm Sunday, I was refreshed by a really great church service where the pastor talked about spring cleaning. It’s a tradition during Holy Week to deep clean your house, in an act of preparing a way for New Life to enter. The act is meant to help us open our hearts to God’s spring cleaning. The pastor explained that we all have racism and bad religion and hypocrisy inside of us. He pointed out, gently (that’s crucial in a pastor), a fact we’ve all known – it’s easier to throw stones than to notice our own sin. But that’s what Jesus asks us to do. I thought, yeah, I want that. Let’s do some spring cleaning.

Wednesday, Eric & I had a fight about who knows what. It was just a normal marriage communication breakdown, but it sent me reeling. I couldn’t go sleep next to him. So, I stayed up and journaled. The only words that came out onto the page were dark, horrible things that I felt about myself. Bad wife. Absent friend. Spiritually blah. Addicted to TV and my phone. Busy. Unkind. Closed off. Isolated. I was so broken inside. So full of death. Worthlessness. Hopelessness. My insides were showing, and they stunk.

I went to my counselor the next day. Maundy Thursday. The day Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. I told her about the journaling. And I cried for the full hour session, unable to really explain how horrible I felt. She explained that the death inside of me has a name: depression. She strongly suggested that my struggle can be helped with a physical change. That while the cognitive therapy we’ve done, trying to change some of the thought patterns & beliefs inside of me, will continue to be crucial, the depression may not ever be fully treated without a biological change. She had me call my doctor to set up an appointment to be prescribed with some kind of antidepressant. Making that call seriously took a full year of therapy. I’m the type of person that doesn’t go to the doctor for medicine until I’ve spent 4 sleepless nights coughing up a lung. I’m the type of person that does everything in my own power to fix whatever’s wrong with me, because I caused the problem somehow. If I’m sick, it’s because I didn’t wash my hands enough. If I’m depressed, it’s because I haven’t been exercising, I haven’t been reading good books, I haven’t been healthy enough… I believe I don’t deserve help if I caused the problem. I should fix it myself. I should be able to fix it myself. My counselor says most of the things I believe are actually things that depression has convinced me of. I haven’t had the doctor’s appointment yet. I have about a million apprehensions about being “prescribed”. Maybe I’ll write on that another time. It’s notable to explain, for the purpose of this blog, that the really yucky nasty stuff inside of me is a holistic nastiness. I’m about to tell you about some of the resurrection I experienced this Easter, but it’s important to note (for myself and for those of us struggling with depression) that this disorder is not just an issue that can be solved spiritually. Depression can be treated holistically, with medicine, cognitive therapy & maybe spirituality, whatever that means for each of us. I’m still working on embracing all of those components of treatment. But, for now, I’m going to tell you about the good stuff that happened spiritually, aware that my depression hasn’t been fully treated… yet.

Good Friday, I had a bunch of work to do. So, I felt fine. Busy. Distracted. On Saturday, I had another breakdown. I couldn’t function without crying. Eric & I sat down to make some videos for a client, and he noted that I looked miserable. I screamed and cried and finally calmed down enough to explain that I FEEL MISERABLE. I feel like a bad wife… a bad musician… I felt like everything I do is bad. I told him to tell me it wasn’t true. To remind me who he fell in love with. Because I’ve forgotten. In the course of this breakdown, and him telling me more about who I am and why he loves me, I realized something really important… I REALLY don’t remember the good parts of who I am. I could only think of terrible things to write in my journal and terrible things to think about myself because that’s all I’ve really noticed for a while. Depression does that. But life circumstances do that, too. The choices I’ve made in response to hurt has done that. And I started to ask, “Why are my walls so high? Why is my heart so hard?

The last couple of years have been a little tricky. After graduating college 3 years ago, I decided to stay in Worcester and dedicate myself to a church community that I really, really loved. It turned out (as it always does) that the community was much more broken than I thought (as they always are, THEY ARE PEOPLE!!!). After all of my college friends moved to different places, many people in the church community started moving and leaving, too. In the course of 6 months, the closest friends I had all lived in 5 different corners of the world. Some people got really mad at me for dating Eric. Some people got really mad at the church for a million different things. Everyone was pretty upset and broken and hurting, and a lot changed. I walked in with an open and bare heart, and REALLY quickly covered up. Hardened up. Began protecting myself. Building walls. Those years culminated with us leaving the church and the community 6 months ago. In those 6 months, my walls haven’t gotten STRONG and IMPENETRABLE. I have successfully and somewhat purposefully isolated myself, in the hopes that being alone means I’ll never be left, never be disappointed, never be so broken by broken people again.

During this year’s Lent, I think I heard 5 different sermons or talks about forgiveness and soft-heartedness. That was annoying.

Spring cleaning is annoying. I mean, who really wants to get down on their hands and knees and scrape the dirt from the corners of the house? I certainly don’t.

Like I said, the voices inside of me speaking death are the voices of depression. However, I have to admit, I’ve certainly not starved them. I’ve fed them with my isolation. I’ve fed them in their safe, dark place and encouraged them to believe that other people are bad and painful and mean and don’t trust them and stay way and stay alone and stay hurt… I’ve learned that depression gets louder when we are all alone. Depression really likes when we have no other voices getting in. I gave it the stage. I gave it a megaphone and silenced everyone else trying to get in.

This Saturday, I was overwhelmed with death. I stayed up late the night before Easter watching The History Channel’s The Bible miniseries. Right around midnight, a (very white) Jesus was nailed to the cross and screamed at God. I screamed at God. I felt that bloody, deathly cross inside of my own heart. I felt the nails piercing through me, with each horrible belief I’ve held about myself. Bad wife. Horrible friend. Worthless. Hopeless. Jesus was nailed to the cross. He felt it. He knew. He knows what it is to be human in this deathly, violent world. And he screamed at God. Why have you forsaken me? Why have you let death win? WHERE ARE YOU?

And then he rose from the dead.

He rose from the dead.

The story wasn’t over.

All day Sunday, I heard again and again that HE IS ALIVE. I felt again and again this LIVING JESUS, full of love and hope and knowing, alive in my heart where the death was overtaking me. Fighting for me. Dwelling deep inside this soft heart that still lies somewhere beneath the walls I’ve built. Reminding me that it was never destroyed, it’s only been covered up. He was inviting me to uncover it. To cry and cry and cry, and bleed and let it hurt and let it be revealed. Showing me that I was made in His image. Generous and open and funny and kind and honest and GOOD. He said, “That’s who you are. That’s who I love. That’s who Eric loves. And YOU are not lost. YOU are just covered up. Come out, come out, come out… Arise, my darling…”

I don’t know why my depression can’t die. I don’t know why there is still pain in the world when Jesus claimed to defeat death. I don’t really get that. I keep believing that if I just believe harder, that he will take it all away. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. At least not for me. And not for 99.9% of people who struggle with depression. So, don’t ever tell someone struggling with depression that they should just pray harder. Believe me, they have. I don’t know why there is a Friday. But somehow, I got to Sunday this weekend.

I felt resurrected this particular Sunday. And I believe in that power. I see that there is death inside of me, but I also believe there is LIFE living in me. I can FEEL it. I can feel the shades being ripped open, and the dust being swept out of this bitter winter. I can feel my heart coming out of its dark hiding, bleeding and beating and wanting to be more honest and open.

Bareness is terribly scary. But there’s this blog, and I called it bare ash. So, I’d like it to be a place where I can be actually bare. I’d like to let my heart bleed and beat here. I think maybe writing about depression and pain and resurrection and the brutiful (as Glennon Doyle Melton, my favorite blogger, calls it) will help me deal with it. I think that’s a really big part of who I am. An honest, open writer and artist. And I think I have to keep remembering that. Writing helps me remember where my soft heart is located, even if it seems and feels so tightly locked away. And I wonder if it will help other people deal with the same things, too. I hope so.

Here I am. Bare Ash. Finally, and again. Thanks be to God.

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To The Very End of the Age…

My Grandmamum, Mother Pat Hames, gave her final sermon before retirement at St. Mark’s New Britain this last Sunday. I tried recounting all of the memories I have in that church, and in the beautiful home St. Mark’s provided my grandparents during her time as their rector, and there are enough for a full memoir.

My childhood was deeply impacted by my time in New Britain, Connecticut. As my mom put it, the time my grandparents gave me make up so much of who I am. I followed Grandmamum around the church offices during school vacations, and asked my first questions about Jesus. I heard her mention “calling” from the pulpit, and felt God’s whisper in my heart for the first time. You were made for something like this…

She baptized my sister & me. She welcomed us into the Body of Christ. She placed the communion wafer into my cupped hands countless times. She was the first person to feed me with the Spirit. Grandad was the first to feed me spicy Bisquick sausage balls, and boy-I-tell-you-what… nobody makes ’em like that man.

I’m forever grateful for what Grandmamum & Grandad gave me.

One of the main gifts I received through Grandmamum was her writing. Below is her final sermon to St. Mark’s New Britain, ending with the words she gave me on a German metal cross that hung in each of her and Grandad’s homes: “Ich bin alle Tage bei euch.”

“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV).

Final Sermon at St. Mark’s
Mark 5:21-43
Reverend Patricia M. Hames

So I wonder – standing in this pulpit that has absorbed thousands of my words over the last twenty years, should the final sermon be extra long because there is much that I want to say or very short because that would be popular and there is good food waiting to be served?

Now trust me I had actually written that before I read the newspaper article that said I usually preach for about an hour. The question put to me was how long does your service last?? So I’m sure we scared a lot of people from coming today. But here goes with my sermon and who knows how long it will last.

And then for goodness sake – on this day – what can I possibly say?

Of course it’s a no brainer really – hear the gospel – share its story. It’s what I have always attempted to be about.

And today’s story is both familiar and ever new with its anticipation and interruptions and distressing news and joyful ending – a plethora of feelings – what more could I want?

It begins with a distraught father seeking healing for his daughter from Jesus. And Jesus responds – he begins the journey with Jairus towards the beloved daughter who is dying. But then comes the interruption from the woman who also puts her hopes in Jesus healing powers. And once Jesus discovers who she is, she is no longer identified by her disease, but she becomes the other ‘daughter’ whose faith has made her well. But even as Jesus is in mid sentence with his blessing upon her, folks from Jairus’ house come with the terrible news that his daughter is dead. Too late – they say – no need to bother Jesus any longer. But Jesus responds. Do not fear, only believe. And some are invited to continue to go with Jesus anyway in anticipation of new life. Surely this story captures many of the feelings we might be sharing today.

So let’s start at the beginning. For today I think I’m not the only one sharing the anxious feelings of Jairus as he approaches Jesus. We too are anxious and afraid that something we love is dying. And to a certain extent it is true. And as we join with Jairus journeying to Jesus let us acknowledging our fears and concerns.

With my leaving something is coming to an end. And we wonder – What will happen to this parish in these times that are changing so rapidly both within these walls and in the church and in the world beyond them? What will happen if we need a priest – will someone come?
What will happen about the baptism that I’m planning for All Saints Day? What will happen when I need a priest to talk to, when I’m in the hospital and so on?

Be assured that you will continue to be cared for pastorally and spiritually. For the summer months my good friend and yours– The Reverend Hope Eakins will be here.

And your vestry has met with the Canon for Transition and is already making plans for the future. This is not your old process of a long interim time followed by a call to a rector. No in this process the search is already in progress to find a Priest in Charge for this parish. It may take a little time, but your lay leaders will continue to work with our diocese to ensure that
St. Mark’s will have new clergy leadership as soon as possible.

And certainly I bring my own fears before Jesus this day. I don’t know what the future holds. Yes this is my final Sunday standing here in this pulpit and at this altar. Where will I next stand at God’s altar and have the unique privilege of offering God’s gifts to God’s people? Where will I proclaim the gospel from another Pulpit? I really don’t have answers yet. But I trust that God is far from finished with me yet, just as God is far from done with you and this parish of Saint Mark’s.

So in spite of our anxieties and fears, we are to go on walking with Jesus, with great hope and expectation of newness of life.

But wait – sometimes the path gets busy and things don’t happen quite like we expect. For in Luke’s gospel story this morning there was a major interruption – a delay that appeared to stop Jesus getting to Jairus’ daughter on time. This must have been a moment of great frustration, disappointment and anger.

There may be some frustrations in the days ahead. Do not let your worries or emotions make you impatient – but remember who is walking with you.

My interruption, the delay before my move and new journey takes root will be the next few months spent in the rectory organizing and consolidating a very large household to fit into a tiny cottage in Niantic. I am sure that even with my daughter and sister’s help I shall experience a great deal of frustration and angst.

Jesus knew that God’s time isn’t always our time. And in this story another daughter needed to be acknowledged and heard and healed. And in the moment of renewed fear Jesus said “Stop being afraid. Go on living with faith.” These are good words for us all to live by.

For while we don’t always get to see instant results in our time line, we can trust that Jesus is always about restoring us to God and to each other, and to the world around us and God is always about bringing new life.

We have walked together deepening our faith in our spiritual journeys. I have learned much from you. Words are inadequate to express the thanksgiving I feel and offer to each of you for your love and faithfulness to Jesus, to this parish, to each other and to me. You have blessed me richly – I thank you.

You have been those who have accompanied me, surrounded me with your care and love especially in the times of my sorrow and grief. Yes you have cried with me as I with you, but you have also laughed and rejoiced at the new life that has come in so many ways.

So where are we today? We can acknowledge our fears and tears and share our accomplishments and our joys. We can offer great thanksgiving to the God who has given us life and to Jesus who gives us new life each and every day and to the Spirit who awakens that awareness in us. We can rejoice in where we have been together and now share in hope for the rest of the journey.
For not all of the crowd went with Jesus for the rest of the way. And today is when you and I part company. We are saying farewell to a special ministry that together – by the grace of God – we have created.

Your journey will continue and I pray that you will grow in love, knowledge and wisdom so that your lives will be transformed more and more into God’s vision for them, and so that you will be the people who transform your corner of the world into the place God means it to be. And I pray that you would help the young and the newcomer know the joys and values of your fellowship in this life in Christ.

This is a hard parting of the way for me because my love for you has grown stronger over every passing year. I will miss you dearly. We have shared so much, our joys, our tears, our praises and our prayers. Nothing could be more precious than that God has called me to serve you and that you have trusted me with your heartaches, your wounds, your love and your victories. I pray that I have honoured that trust.

God continues to promise abundant life to us. That life often comes in surprising and creative ways. And we all need to have our hearts and minds open to the possibilities that are sometimes present and sometimes just around the corner or over the horizon.

As I say goodbye I am saying it with its original meaning “God be with ye”—God be with you. I believe that God will truly be alive here among you. And when you say goodbye to me, you can truly trust that God’s spirit accompanies me.

Goodbye – ‘God be with you’ is a word of hope and blessing, a prayer for those we love. We will end this service with a Litany of Farewell – another ending word that also encompasses what I pray for you. Fare thee well an ancient wish of well being when parting. God be with you and Fare thee well are the two prayers that I leave you with.

And Jesus has the final words to us all “Stop being afraid. Go on living with faith.” “I am with you always – to the end of the age.”

Amen and amen.

For the Love of L’Esperance

Life has this determined way of dragging us forward, kicking and screaming. Every time I feel like I can take in a breath of fresh peace, something interrupts it more quickly than it came. Like a brand new punch to the gut.

Just two days ago, my husband & I stood over the lowering casket of the fourth person in the L’Esperance family to die in 11 months. Eric’s cousin was only 26 when he passed away tragically and unexpectedly. I nervously avoided his eyes after I hung up the phone with his hysterical mother, who just lost a nephew for the second time in a year. I held him in my arms as he collapsed in tears, when I told him the dark-haired boy who has the same eyebrows as him was gone. He was gone. Those are the only words my mother-in-law could muster, and I’ll never forget hearing them. “He’s gone.” Those words were all I heard. And I never want to say them to Eric again.

In a situation so completely devoid of answers or closure, we discovered a strange and profound peace as we took a flower from the top of the wood. And it wasn’t that kind of peace that comes with a cliche. No, this didn’t happen for a reason. Everything probably wasn’t going to be okay, especially not right now. It doesn’t help that God has another “angel in heaven.” And it doesn’t bring back your cousin, son, brother, and friend to know that he’s now “at peace with the Lord.”

These are just the things people say. But the things people say don’t bring the peace that passes all understanding. The things people say are trying to grasp for understanding, and no matter how hard we try to grapple with death, I don’t really think we can fully get it. But then there’s God. One of my favorite things about God, and one of the reasons I keep coming back to Him, is this physical, life-changing manifestation of His peace. As our brains, and the people around us, keep chatting-chatting-chatting, coming up with reasons, justifying, excusing… God is ever so quiet. His love physically surrounds us as holy water falls from our eyes. When we shake our heads and say, “I don’t understand,” He so rarely says, “Let me explain,” but instead holds us and whispers, “I know.” God’s peace doesn’t always make us feel better. Often, it allows the walls to come crumbling down, and lets us feel deeper. It doesn’t always help and I find it so rarely explains a single thing. God’s peace is quiet and tender. It is only and always Love.

I had such a strong sense of that love and peace surrounding my husband and our family this weekend. If you have a large, spiritual family (but let me assure you, there’s no way it’s as large or as spiritual as the L’Esperances), you know the true meaning of communion. God lives in and moves through the hearts of every cousin, every aunt and uncle, every little child running for a basketball. He feeds you with more food than you can handle, as He asks you again through your mom’s voice, “DID YOU GET ENOUGH TO EAT!?” There is laughter, and there is peace that passes this attempt at understanding exactly how we got here, and our why-oh-why-oh-why-oh-why’s are hushed hiccups in our hearts, as we experience the joy of the people who look and feel and talk like us.

I didn’t grow up with a huge family. Fortunately, that means we attend fewer funerals for my side. Unfortunately, though, I think I missed out on a lot. At Steve’s funeral, his sister Laura delivered the eulogy. Like most perfect eulogies, hers made us all sob and crack up in the same shortened breath. Laura remembered well, as did my sniffling husband next to me, all of the skateboarding, dress-up, and sleepovers they shared as kids. Sometimes, there were so many people in the swimming pool, it lost half its water. Sometimes, they had to put kids in sleeping bags in the kitchen and the hallways. Sometimes, they fit 14 people into a camper, sleeping the little ones vertically like sardines.

Mary-Ann and Paul L’Esperance, Eric’s grandparents, had 15 children. Devout French Catholics. This meant he and his 3 siblings grew up with 28 aunts & uncles, and 55 cousins. Now many of his first cousins have their own kids, so the L’Esperance family is easily pushing (or has passed?) 100 members these days. I think if anyone stopped and tried to count, they’d be overwhelmed. There are at least 3 pregnant women at every event, 5 brand new blue-eyed babies, a few people engaged or newly married, and a few that are over-the-moon proud to be new aunts, uncles, or grandparents. I’ve never in my entire life known love to multiply… and multiply… and multiply some more… the way it does in my new life with them.

When we found out Steve died, we went straight to his parents’ house. We drove so nervously through the town Eric and all of his aunts & uncles grew up in, thinking we’d be alone with his grieving aunt & uncle and really have no idea what to say. Next time I’m afraid of being alone in that family, I need to remember to talk my only-child self off the ledge, and say, “Are you kidding? You couldn’t be alone if you tried. Not even if you wanted to be.” We arrived at the house next to the church, the same house Eric spent many summer nights, and heard sobbing from the street. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. Weeping. Laughing. Talking. Apologizing. Explaining. Listening. Praying. Communing.

If you are doubtful about God, or His love for you, you should spend a day with the L’Esperance family. You may find, for the first time in your life, that love and peace can somehow abound in tragedy and misunderstanding. You may find that in all of your questions, you are not met with answers, but you are given a place to rest. You may just find that God won’t explain Himself with justifications and cliches, but He feeds you and gives you a place to call Home. You may find yourself baptized, or married, into a Family. And you may understand that in a whole new way, like I have.

I pray we’d all discover God’s heart in the same way my new family has introduced me to it. I’m learning through them that God is not always easy. Life will not stop punching us in the gut, but somehow, we can come and experience that peace that we just can’t explain. As we’re crumpled up on the floor with all of our questions and grief, love can come surround us in the form of 100 hugs from people with your husband’s eyebrows.

Mom Blogs, Psalms, and Unspeakable Joy

I happened upon two blog posts this morning. They were both written in the last few days. They were both about puking kids.

Here they are:
Sarah Bessey: “[Love Looks Like] 2:07 a.m.”
Leah Archibald: “Ignore My Previous Parenting Advice”.

I’m not really sure why I clicked them, to be honest. In my newly wedded, childless bliss, I’ve been less and less thrilled about Mom Blogs. I used to really look forward to being a  Mom, and thought I’d have a hard time with Eric’s “let’s wait 3-5 years” proposal. I’d read lots of these posts, loved talking to my friends about their kids’ milestones, and I’ve seen The Business of Being Born three times. But as I settle into married life, It’s nearly impossible to imagine being one of those puke-picker-uppers myself. I can’t begin to fathom the way our cozy, romantic life will be interrupted by kids.

So I only clicked on these links because I love both writers, and I thought I could learn something from some great writers and mentors to file away in my “Kids One Day, But Not Today” drawer. But as I read them, I found much more.

Both of these women were grudgingly working the thankless job of “puke manager” over the past few weeks, and lived to write about it. Within their stories about whining and sick kids, they asked a Big Universal Life Question that I’ve been asking a lot lately: WHERE is the joy in this?!

Early this morning, before making my rounds of the blogosphere, I was led early to Psalm 37 (today’s Responsorial Psalm in the Catholic liturgical calendar, which–by the way–has provided me a new daily discipline I’ve taken up and really enjoyed. You can find them and follow along here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings).

Psalm 37 is all about finding joy in the everyday. It’s not just about us finding joy, but totally exclaiming that God will bring us great joy every day! In the last week, the Catholic readings have reiterated the covenant God has made with us. I’ve been reading reminders from the Apostle Paul to the Jewish Hebrew Christians about God’s new promise of freedom over their lives. I’ve been reading psalms that are praising the coming covenant, reconciling God and His People.

I read the daily readings that tell me some kind of promise is over my life. I’m only here reading because I’ve won a small battle against a wintertime depression that has been heavily keeping me emotionally isolated for the last few weeks. I sit here reading, as the dread creeps up as the time passes, bringing me closer to another long day at a grueling job I really don’t love. I read, and I ask God those very same Big Questions Sarah & Leah are asking. **(SIDENOTE! I just realized! Sarah & Leah are two incredible self-sacrificing women of the Bible, too! They can be found in Genesis in pretty grueling situations, trusting God to come through on his promises for their life when they are barren and hopeless. Spoiler alert: He does and they become the matriarchs of the Jewish nation, and integral to the story of our faith. MIND BLOWN!!!! Anyway…)**

I keep asking:

“What EXACTLY does this promise mean for me? My situation sucks! WHERE is the promise? WHERE is my joy? WHERE are You, God?”

Both of these bloggers were full of answers for me today. So was Psalm 37.

Leah Archibald asks why it all feels like suffering sometimes, and she wagers that finding joy and gratitude in some really beyond-her-control crappy moments can make life feel a lot better.

Sarah Bessey finds full, meaningful, lasting, lifelong love in the ordinary, mundane and sometimes grueling parts of life. The night may bring puke, but joy comes in the morning.

And in Psalm 37, God makes a lot of promises.

He says we will:

live safely and prosper,
be
fed in security,
be granted our hearts’ true
desire,
be
rescued,
be
saved,
be
helped,
find
refuge,
find
peace,
be given
direction,
never fall,
never be abandoned,

and he will make our righteousness shine like the dawn.

He says, if we commit to him our way, he will come through. He will act, and he will rescue us. This isn’t an ultimatum. This isn’t the prosperity gospel. This isn’t a pastor saying if you just keep coming to church every week and quit smoking, you’ll start making more money. This is the covenant. This is the promise of everything God truly has to offer us. This is the fullness of life. This is the Good News.

This is a promise to those of us stuck in bed, look to me. I will give you refuge.
This is a promise to those of us trapped in our jobs, look to me. I will give you your hearts’ desire.
This is a promise to those of us cleaning up puke, look to me. I will never let you fall.

I think the Good News–the best news— is that in these mundane, boring or downright awful moments, we will know true, unspeakable joy.

————————————————————–
Thanks to Sarah Bessey & Leah Archibald for sharing your love, thoughts, and words with us.
Thanks to my sister-in-law Rachel for having such a cute baby and letting me share her little face that will surely help God bring even more joy into the world.

A Pleasantly Surprising New Year

I think this year can be summed up by a few themes for me: forgiveness, reconciliation, and expansion. Throughout the year, I’ve hurt many people many times, and they’ve hurt me. The thing that makes this year different than all the others in which I’ve hurt and been hurt, is my willingness to face forgiveness. I’ve forgiven those who’ve hurt me, and been forgiven by those I’ve hurt. I’ve forgiven myself for my flaws, and accepted that they exist in the strange cocktail of bad and good that make up me.

I’ve learned what comes after forgiveness. Reconciliation. We’ve talked, struggled, and walked together through those offenses and struggles with as much grace as we could. I was able to laugh and cry over bread and wine with people who I thought would be out of my life permanently. The reconciliation has been amazing, and really brings me joy to note the great difference between where we stood a year ago, and where we are now.

I’ve expanded this year. My heart has expanded to let in those who think differently than me. My family has literally expanded – I’ve gained a husband, a niece and a baby sister. My capacity to love is expanding daily, as I learn to put my husband’s needs before my own. My mind has expanded, letting in the possibility that sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes you’re wrong, but mostly, it doesn’t matter.

I’m truly grateful for this year. These three things that have changed so drastically for me are examples of the miracles I think God has worked in my life. I don’t think, when I was writing my resolutions down last year, I could ever resolve to grow the way I have this year. I think I’ve been awaken and pushed and shoved and pulled in ways I couldn’t have planned, or necessarily could have wanted. But I’m grateful. Utterly grateful for how much more open I feel to possibility, to growth, to change, to forgiveness, and acceptance, and love.

As I look forward to 2015, I’m making many resolutions. I’d like to be more creative, write more music, read more of the Bible, blog more, learn how to grow closer and more honest with Eric. I’m making my lists of wishes and goals, but I’m realizing as I look back on 2014, these goals will most likely not be all God has for me. I’m pleasantly surprised with how pleasantly surprising the last year has been, and I hope for more of the same next year. I still have my list of resolutions, but I know God has one for me, too. My only prayer is that I can accept and embrace all that He might have, and know His love for me more fully. I can’t wait to see the ways in which the Kingdom might grow and evolve in my world, and in the lives of those around me.

So, my resolution is not really my own. It is a promise that is continually and constantly being made to me: that God and His Kingdom will continue to be as forgiving, as expanding, as opening, and as surprising as ever. 

I Don’t Have Answers, But I Have Clean Feet

When I was a teenager, I visited a church that (with good intentions) was trying to find a way to encourage young, questioning teenagers like myself to come experience Jesus. They saw that more and more kids were being raised without religion, more and more teenagers were finding their way away from church, fewer and fewer parents were forcing their kids to sit through another boring Sunday morning service that they didn’t understand. They knew that kids, just like me, were curious and cynical. Their answer to this problem was to encourage discussion in church about God and Jesus. At youth group, the young associate pastor would speak to us about some Scripture, and then we would sit at our round tables and discuss what we were taught. At each table, one designated person (usually a member of the pastor’s family, or a long-time friend of the church family) would have a sheet in front of them with the questions, and as I saw when I leaned over their shoulder, the answer to each question.

I never went back.

I knew, as clear as day, I didn’t want to go to a church that advertised “open-table discussion” but carried all the right answers around on a cliff note. I knew immediately that I didn’t fit in. I felt totally alone at the table, because when the time came for me to give my not-familiar-with-church-stuff two cents, I could only respond, “Oh. I’m not actually sure what the Bible means.”

And that was not the correct answer in red on the paper.

I still open my Bible, almost ten years later, and have to slam it shut. This book is the tool that was used to create those answer sheets that left me alone, afraid and very much out. I can still see in my little green pocket Bible a barrier as big as the Great Wall of China keeping me on the outside. I still can’t find all of the answers within it, and so I feel unworthy to pick it up. I still feel like I’m being asked to leave the table.

Jesus … got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” [John 13: 2-9 NLT]

This Advent, as I personally wait in hopeful anticipation for Jesus to show Himself to me in new and surprising ways, I’ve felt led to read John’s Gospel. And let me tell you, I’ve been as surprised as the shepherd’s must’ve been to meet the King of Israel as a tiny, dirty, poor baby in a manger. The thing that surprises me the most about John’s Gospel is the many times he shows confusion surrounding Jesus and his teachings. I’m tempted to cite here every time in John’s retelling of Jesus’s time with us on earth when the people around him sit at a table or on a mountain or at the temple and say, “Uh, Jesus? We don’t really get what you’re trying to say or do here…” [emphasis and sarcasm obviously added]. They argue, they disagree, and again and again Jesus answers them almost less clearly than he does the time before. He talks to them in parables, stories, and poems that they can’t seem to grasp. He is accused and misunderstood by members of his own religion, he is questioned by his own disciples, and John says even his own brothers didn’t understand what he was up to.

As John retells the story of The Last Supper, we see that the minute Simon Peter thought he had Jesus all figured out, Jesus surprises him, telling him he’s getting his feet washed. Saint Peter has been walking around in sandals for days without bathing. He knows that Jesus is blameless, totally clean. Since Peter is a Jew, he reverts back to his old was and remembers that God can only appear in the midst of the temple, a place that has been ceremoniously cleaned and prepared to be entered by the High Priest. Peter was a fisherman, unworthy and unchosen by the Rabbis in his youth, and here God Himself is telling him he’s going to get naked and was his disgusting feet. Obviously Peter rejects him with a sentiment we can all understand: “I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy.”

Jesus tells him that if he can’t allow himself to be cleaned, he won’t understand who God really is.

Jesus isn’t concerned that Peter has all the right answers. He even excuses it: “I know you don’t get it, Peter, but you will. What I’m doing is more important than understanding what’s right and what’s wrong. Let go of your misconceptions about how God works.” He quickly changes the subject and insists, “Just let me wash your feet. You will experience something profound.” And Peter responds, “Oh, I see it. I feel it. And I want more of what you’re offering me. Don’t stop with my feet!”

I wish I was introduced to this Jesus when I was fifteen and really looking for him. I wanted more, but I was taught I couldn’t get it because I didn’t know the right answers. I was isolated from the table because I didn’t feel like I really understood what was going on. And you know, I think we have solid proof that if Jesus were sitting at that table with me, he would’ve taken me and simply washed my feet. I think that would’ve made me feel even more included than I would’ve had I actually known all the answers on the paper. I would’ve been cleaned, I would’ve been convinced that I wasn’t bad or wrong or isolated. Most importantly, I would’ve been invited into a deeply intimate relationship with Jesus.

I’ll make my point plainly:

The Church is doing an excellent job at creating answer sheets.
The Church is doing a terrible job at washing peoples’ feet.
The Church is doing an excellent job at telling us to follow commandments.
The Church is doing a terrible job at helping us follow Jesus.
The Church is doing an excellent job at telling us we’re wrong.
The Church is doing a terrible job at showing us we’re loved.

When 87% of non-Christian young adults (between 16 and 29) say they’re not interested in Christianity because they perceive Christians as judgmental, something is wrong.

When our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQIA community are told they are bad the second they walk into church (IF they are ever brave enough to walk into a church), and the rest of us gluttons, drunkards, and gossipers are getting off scot-free, there is something seriously wrong. When so many people just like me have been made to feel ashamed, wrong, embarrassed and isolated in a place that claims to be sharing The Gospel, something is really really wrong.

Jesus washed the feet of a man who didn’t yet understand the full promise that Jesus was making him.
Jesus ate dinner that night with his betrayer, Judas. He gave him communion. He washed his feet, too.

We took Jesus’s prayers for us to be one in Him and one in the Father and created 41,000 different denominations of Christianity. Why? Because we can’t bear to sit at the table with those we believe to see things differently than us.

If we continue to call ourselves followers of Jesus, we need to learn to stop asking our friends who are sitting around our dinner table to agree with everything we believe. If we want to follow Jesus, we must wash the feet of those who we don’t understand. We have to wash the feet of those who hurt, misunderstand and betray us. Jesus is washing their feet – and ours – every single day.

I sincerely believe we need to let go of the fact that we don’t understand each other and, you know, sometimes we probably don’t really understand Jesus. His disciples were sitting right next to him and couldn’t grasp what he was getting at, but we expect ourselves to?

It doesn’t matter anyway. Let’s agree to disagree, and have dinner together. Welcome each and every person to this glorious table, beautifully decorated and abundantly stocked with all the wine and bread you could wish for. And when things get a little hairy, how about we let it go and I can wash your feet. I can’t understand your opinions, but I love you like God does. And let me tell you, He loves you in a way that is irrelevant to your interpretations, your background and your beliefs.

God isn’t waiting at the table with an answer sheet.
He is waiting beside the table, on his knees, half-naked, with a basin of fresh water.

Divorce on Earth, as it is in Heaven

I come from a family of “second chances”. My parents are divorced and are both remarried to people who have been divorced. 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are divorced from other people and remarried to each other. I’ve learned throughout the years spent at Christmases full of step-cousins, step-grandparents and step-nephews that the second go-around isn’t always so bad. Our melting pot family today is seemingly healthy and functional. Well, I’d say we aren’t any more dysfunctional than the “typical” family units I’ve come across. Things are working out A-OK. Nobody fights anymore, and nobody was all that awkward at my wedding rehearsal dinner when we sat all together for one of those rare life-occasion moments.

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I met and knew Eric first as a married man. I’ll never deny the truth that I knew his wife very well. In fact, we were friends. We went to the bar together, we had breakfasts at the diner on my campus once in a while, I came to their apartment and watched Friends with both of them. It’s not easy to explain the journey from Point A to Point B (that’s probably another post… or a memoir) but a few years later, I became Eric’s second wife.

I felt well-equipped to be a second wife, based on my lineage. Despite the statistics, I knew that second chances can actually work out pretty well. I think the growth and the pain and the feelings of intense failure and fear that stem from experiencing divorce can actually determine a person to make it work the next time, or else they’ll never risk it again. In my case, Eric was ready and eager to instate open-communication, honesty, and healthy habits into a new relationship right from the start. And after seeing many family members live through the pain of splits, I was too. We both felt, as we started dating, we had what it took to build a solid foundation that our marriage could stand upon.

Maybe I was well-equipped or knowledgeable, but not necessarily prepared for what was to come.

As much as I thought I knew about divorce, I don’t think I had the whole story. In my life before Eric, everyone I knew who had been divorced and/or remarried had gotten through the brunt of it without involving me. I was a child through most of it, and everyone protected me from the smack-talking and tension and awkwardness pretty effectively. I felt pretty sure that divorce just happens, and then life moves on.

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But this time I was in the center of all of it. Neither one of us had kids to have to counsel through the process (thank God, really, I don’t know how people do it), but we did have family and friends that were reeling from the brokenness of Eric’s divorce and we all lived in a world of tension. My friendship with Eric’s ex-wife obviously ended when we started dating, and it seemed like others began drawing their battle lines. This was bad in ways, good in others, and confusing and painful on all accounts, for everyone involved.

Friends and family who chose “my side” of the issue were rarely helpful. Nine times out of ten the person who would come to me and smacktalk “the ex” were a. misinformed, b. unsympathetic, and c. very awkward and confused when she and I and they would all end up at the same party.  Its an ugly part of me that has to admit I enjoyed when these people appeared to be “taking my side”, but I didn’t actually appreciate it. My ego tried to convince me it felt really good to have someone validate me and my relationship, but my heart couldn’t trust the opinion of someone who, somehow, so easily talked so badly about someone they were once really close to.

The most enriching and helpful experiences I had were with those around me who were the ones that went through the confusing process with us very honestly. Today I am still close friends with a woman who said, “You know what? I’m friends with her, I know her story. I’m friends with you, I know your story. I’m friends with Eric, too. And I’m not taking sides.” It made for a few uncomfortable barbeques, but ultimately, I appreciated and felt very loved by the way she chose to live in that awkwardness for all of us. I also had people say straightforwardly, “I’m really mad at you right now, and I’m really confused about all that’s happened.” The honesty behind that statement was, at the time, so hard to take, but it was the beginning of a (long) journey towards understanding and healing, and a deeper trust was born between myself and those who expressed themselves so transparently that way.

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For anyone who has been broken by this issue directly or indirectly, or whose family or community has been torn apart because of divorce, I’m deeply sorry. I understand your pain. I truly believe, though, that a heart bent toward reconciliation will help in the journey out of bitterness. One day, whether it is on Earth or in Heaven I don’t know, I pray the separate bits and pieces of my family will be One. I pray the friendship I had with Eric’s ex-wife will be restored. I pray we, our siblings, our parents, and our step-cousins can hang out and all watch Friends together.

This love and reconciliation is more than our human brains can comprehend, so we choose instead to take the “easy” way out and pledge “loyalty”. We talk badly about the ex, or about the new girlfriend, or about the step-kids and think that will help us along. We believe that if we could only chose a side, this will all be a lot less messy. But when you know divorce and remarriage, you know well that black is never just black and white is never just white. Our families and our pasts and our futures all bleed into one fascinating gray where our loyalty is muddled and our hearts are utterly torn. But in that gray, and in those open spaces, if we are just willing to sit there, we can really experience something beautiful. If we can open ourselves up enough to the awkward-ness and the yucky-ness and the I-wish-this-wasn’t-happening-ness that is divorce and/or remarriage, and just say, “I’m really mad,” or “I’m really sad,” or “I’m really confused,” instead of “Well, he/she was bad for him/her, and you are good!” I think we’ll find something really great in that. When we don’t draw battle lines so clearly, but address our hurt and confusion directly instead, we give ourselves up to the process of grieving and healing. We allow ourselves to experience great tension, which resolves in great relief, eventually.

Eventually, not just in Heaven, but here on Earth, you’ll be able to sit at your rehearsal dinner with your divorced fiancee, and see your dad commend your step-dad’s role in your life, see your mom holding your brand new step-daughter, and get a glimpse of the Kingdom Come.

God is a Perfect October Morning

It’s one of those unbelievably perfect morning moments. The rain is tapping above our back porch where Eric sits and taps rhythmically between each chord he plays on the old Gibson that never stays in tune. The one whom my soul loves so sweetly, and the three kitties who sometimes decide to let us love them that way too, are enjoying what are the very final breaths of the passing summer air. It’s now late October, and smoke blows through the kitchen window that we keep open for the cats who miss the back porch they had in Eric’s old apartment. It lets in the smell of Nag Champa that’s hot and clammy on my face and hands. My phone buzzes up on the counter, but I look past and beyond it, through the window at the canvas of red brick, city neon, telephone wire, golden leaves and grey sky. Eric’s fingers and voice are finally committing to a tune they like outside, and we wait apprehensively for the alarm to declare we need to get a move on with the day. I finished another book that tore through me as quickly as I tore through its pages this morning, and before I come to write, I search each prologue and acknowledgement for more information, more joy, more of the same reliability in hearing some new words I need to keep hearing. I don’t want to be bothered with baby showers, birthday cards, quotes for car parts or traffic today. If I could stay here forever, surrounded by finished wood, Nag Champa, the breath of the Gibson, and fresh language, I’m positive I would. It’s moments like these that can evaporate everything with the rain. Because it’s these morning moments that show me how loved I am, despite my own decision-making, will-powered self. No level of assurance on any matter could replace the beautiful grey shawl that falls around our home as the rain picks up. No amount of money given to another new mother can gift her with a moment like this. I pray for our cousin and her new baby to know the peace and serenity of these mornings. How can you fight through traffic to all of your appointments, and still feel the calm of a wet fall day, tucked away at home sipping coffee? I hear the honking horns beyond Eric’s new song, the sniffing of his nose, the buzzing of the alarm, and I wonder how to carry these fleeting feelings into what will certainly become a busy day like all the others. I am in the Temple this morning, the Holy of Holies, and I remember Jesus tells us we can stay here through it all. Through the turmoil, through the harshness, through the busy buzzing, He is surely here inviting us into this peace every hour of our day. I wonder how it’s possible – that a God can be so loud – and yet quiet enough – to create serenity in the middle of the city, in the middle of a day filled with chores and obligation. I wonder how I can continue to reach out to a Father who sends rain to our roofs just to help us sleep, while boxes of cardboard sit on the street and crumble into wet mush. I wonder if there’s a way to summon a warm, rainy morning to live inside of my frustration and pain and disagreement and personal traffic jams. I wonder if that’s who God really is, if that’s what He is inviting us into, every morning, afternoon and evening of our lives.

Jesus Loves Me, This I Sorta Always Forget

I want to start over. I want to stop, breathe. Be still. And know.
Or stop knowing, actually.
I wish I could burn every Huffington Post article that gets posted to our walls. I wish I could throw out every opinion Buzzfeed list on “24 Reasons Why I’m A Feminist” that prods, urks, annoys, and fires us up. I wish I could scrap all of my own opinions and promise that I’d never have a strong one again.

I wish, above all else, that I had a strong sense that I am loved, am approved of, and accepted. Regardless of my opinions, regardless of where I am right, where I am wrong, that I am totally and completely Beloved.

I wish I could just cry more, and feel the real pain of how it is when my world is upside down. I wish I could accept that I just don’t know all the time, but still, I am so loved. Love is here for me to experience now, no matter how upside down everything else is. I wish I could stop trying to turn everything right-side-up all the time, and just see the sky from this different vantage point, and experience how beautiful and terrifying it is when you can’t tell if you’re swimming up or down. Toward the sky or toward the rocks. It’s still all blue.

What if I could actually know that God loves me? What if that were it?
Could that be the end of justifying, defending, opinionating?

Could that be the end of isolation, fear, and separation?

If I could only know that I was truly loved by He who made me and made everything good, good, good, then would I stop hiding away from those who I don’t feel approve of me? Would I stop fighting so hard in the comment section? Would I stop begging my fellow man to please, just understand me. Love me. Accept me. Approve of me.
Would I be gentler with those who don’t agree?
Would I be closer to those who don’t understand?

Could I understand better that they, too, are loved beyond understanding?

I believe the Good News is that yes, I could and would do all of these things so much better if I could just begin to understand that God loves me, and that’s that.

I’d throw out all of the doctrine I hold out as a shield. I’d climb down off of the hills I’m willing to die on. I’d release myself from the trapeze I’m hanging on, and just experience the great fun in floating in the in-between.

No more anti- this or pro- that. No more, how could you not see it my way?

I’d be left with the truth that is beauty, and pain, and this chaos that is the human existence.

I’d be left with Oneness, and camaraderie, and empathy, and jointness, and the Body. Whole.

Just God. And love. And that’s it.

But instead I build my walls around myself. Unable to believe that anyone, especially not The Perfect One, could possibly accept, understand, and love all of the ugly, wrong, sinful parts of me.

So, I tell myself I’m right. I tell the world I’m right. And I stand in my walled-in isolation of rightness, and let nothing in, nothing out. And when some walk by and start banging the bricks in, they say I should just grow up, rebuild. Build higher, build stronger. Get ahold of yourself and strengthen that which you believe. You shouldn’t be crushed by brick every time someone comes through and tries to knock you over. Grow up.

What if I could grow down? What if I could grow so small that I could fit in the Hands of my Maker? What if He were my defense? What if I could believe that?

Peace. Joy. Purity.

I believe, if my walls were knocked down, if I were shrunk down, the Spirit would come and make His promise true that these are truly His gifts.

Open up your heart. Let down your walls. Let me in.

 

Revolutionary Love (Or Even Like?)

I came upon an interesting idea today. Please ignore the simplicity of the thought; if you let it, it may be revolutionary. It is this:

What if God actually likes me.

I get that God loves me, you know? I think we all sorta get that. Even if we don’t go to church, even if we don’t really have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe. Most people (and it’s cool if you’re not one of them, I guess I’m just generalizing) have at least heard it somewhere that God the Father loves us.

I get that God loves me. I get that He loves me just the same as I get that my parents had to love me through my crappy teenaged years. Yeah, they loved me. They put up with the monster that was disguised as me for those dreadful, hormonal years. They waited for all that attitude, all of those harsh “Ughhhhhh, you are RUINING MY LIFE”s to “PLEASE, OH GOD, JUST GO AWAY ALREADY.” I realized today that I’m pretty sure God loves me just the same as that. I’ve done a good job at convincing myself (and my own Dad tells me I have a creative imagination, capable of inventing the most elaborate worst-case-scenarios) that the moment I wake up, I have to answer God with a sigh of, “I’m sorry” as He shakes His sorrowful head. He is solemn and frustrated with me, yet not at all surprised, and says, “You didn’t get up when you said you would.”

So, here’s my revolutionary idea:

What if. What if God is more of an easily-amused, jubilant child on a sunny Saturday morning. What if He is oblivious to the flaw in the ringing of the snooze button for the 8th time and instead cracks up, laughs, “Ha!! Hit it again!! Hit it again!!” And what ifwhen I get up, finally, He is waiting for me in the kitchen trying to stifle his laughter, getting ready to yell “SURPRISE!” with a banner hanging over His head reading, “YOU DID IT!” And what if He sits with me in the bathroom as I shower and says thoughtfully, “I’m really glad you got that extra sleep.”

Well, if you consider your quiet morning time as sacred as I do, you won’t be as excited about the peppy Morning-God. But you catch my drift, right? I mean, can you even imagine it? What if God is actually nothing like a Disappointed Disciplinarian Dad, whom you can never please?

Honestly, the thought scares me. If Dad isn’t telling me how I’m doing everything wrong, then who will? If I always feel good about myself and everything I’m doing, then won’t I be naive, oblivious, ignorant? Won’t I look really bad? Won’t I be incredibly hurt when someone at work counter’s God’s “You’re doing everything so well!” with a “Why were you late today?” Won’t it feel like falling down a flight of stairs? Won’t I deserve it? What happens when peppy Morning-God’s hot air balloon of Love gets popped mid-flight?

So, I guess you’d say I’m afraid of heights. I’m afraid to be let down and to look dumb. But I think I might just try it. Because what if?What exactly could my life look like if I actually that God loved – no REALLY LOVED, even LIKED (imagine that!?) – me?

Would I actually enjoy spending time with Him if I believed He enjoys spending time with me? Would I be able to actually trust Him if I believed, maybe, He trusts me? Would I be able to stand confident in God’s love if I really believed He sees no flaw in me?

Maybe it’s revolutionary. Maybe not.